“A Circus, Circus transplanted anywhere else wouldn’t make much sense.”
"Back then the owners told me to design something that would stay up for three years, not 40 . . .”
“Casinos and hotels are now more like department stores . . .”
Homer Rissman was born on February 22, 1927, in Chicago, the son of an architect. He attended the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and started his own practice in 1949, designing now highly sought-after examples of Mid-Century row houses and townhouses in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. 1954, after the Korean War and the collapse of new housing construction, his friend James Efston of Efstonbuilt Co., a Chicago restaurant fixture contracting company, invited Rissman to California to re-model the coffee shop and drugstore in the Wilton Hotel in Long Beach.
His association with Efston, who was developing plans for a hotel in Las Vegas, led to Rissman’s designing his first Las Vegas hotel, the Lady Luck, which eventually opened as the Hacienda in 1956. Meanwhile, through Efston’s contacts in the restaurant business, Rissman, now settled in Santa Monica, branched out into designing restaurants and motels in the local Southern California highway style, in which his colleague Martin Stern was also learning to incorporate new forms for new uses.
Like Stern, Rissman developed long-standing associations with hotel chains, first Hacienda (which bought out the Lady Luck in Las Vegas), in Stockton, Bakersfield, and Fresno; and later Holiday Inn, for which he created generic “franchise” designs used throughout southern California as well as on the Las Vegas Strip. Once established as a Las Vegas hotel architect, Rissman found steady work expanding or renovating Strip hotels and country clubs including the Hacienda, Tropicana, Dunes, Tally Ho, Castaway,s and the Silver Slipper. His next major projects were the total redesign and rebuilding of the Frontier Hotel in 1966, and the Bonanza in 1967.
In 1968, in association with one of Las Vegas’s more colorful developers, Jay Sarno, who had recently opened Caesars Palace, Rissman created the original circus tent concept for the iconic Circus, Circus Casino. “People expect to see to see things here that they don’t see on the main street of their own communities,” Rissman commented in a newspaper interview in 1984, “A Circus, Circus, transplanted anywhere else wouldn’t make much sense. The visual impact can’t be denied.” His appreciation of outré on the Strip also found an outlet in the Showboat, the boat casino he designed for Claudine Williams, attached to his center strip Holiday Inn. But his defining building that established his place on the Strip skyline was the Flamingo Hilton Hotel, where he completed—with a series of matching, pink glassed, white concrete towers built over six construction phases—the re-creation of the corner of Flamingo and the Strip begun with Stern’s MGM Grand.
Rissman did renovations and expansions of existing hotels, including those of his colleague Martin Stern. He added room wings to Stern’s original International Hotel. He also created the plans for Sheldon Adelson’s new Sands Expo and Convention Center in 1989. Both Rissman and Stern developed plans and designs for Binion’s Horseshoe, the Thunderbird/Silverbird, and unrealized proposals for the Aladdin and Landmark Hotels. Stern, as Harrah’s architect, did the redesign of Rissman’s Holiday Casino when it was acquired by Harrah’s.
Rissman was the most prominent architect of Prim, Nevada, where he designed Whiskey Pete’s, the Primadonna, and Buffalo Bill's. He also designed the Las Vegas luxury apartment complex Regency Towers, in which he and his wife resided.
Homer Rissman died in Las Vegas in 2001.
- Photograph of a rendering of the International Hotel (Las Vegas), circa 1968:
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- Photograph of men playing faro in a Fremont Street casino (Las Vegas), circa 1930:
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- Film transparency of the swimming pool and patio of the Thunderbird Hotel (Las Vegas), circa 1950s:
- The 1950'S images are great! Do you have more like this and how can I order reproductions?